Refractory status epilepticus: A prospective observational study


  • This paper was presented in part at the Innsbruck Colloquium on Status Epilepticus (April 2–4 2009).

Address correspondence to Dr Andrea O. Rossetti, Service de Neurologie, CHUV-BH07, CH-1011-Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail:


Purpose: Status epilepticus (SE) that is resistant to two antiepileptic compounds is defined as refractory status epilepticus (RSE). In the few available retrospective studies, estimated RSE frequency is between 31% and 43% of patients presenting an SE episode; almost all seem to require a coma induction for treatment. We prospectively assessed RSE frequency, clinical predictors, and outcome in a tertiary clinical setting.

Methods: Over 2 years we collected 128 consecutives SE episodes (118 patients) in adults. Clinical data and their relationship to outcome (mortality and return to baseline clinical conditions) were analyzed.

Results: Twenty-nine of 128 SE episodes (22.6%) were refractory to first- and second-line antiepileptic treatments. Severity of consciousness impairment and de novo episodes were independent predictors of RSE. RSE showed a worse outcome than non-RSE (39% vs. 11% for mortality; 21% vs. 63% for return to baseline clinical conditions). Only 12 patients with RSE (41%) required coma induction for treatment.

Discussion: This prospective study identifies clinical factors predicting the onset of SE refractoriness. RSE appears to be less frequent than previously reported in retrospective studies; furthermore, most RSE episodes were treated outside the intensive care unit (ICU). Nonetheless, we confirm that RSE is characterized by high mortality and morbidity.